Our Moroccan road trip, part 2: Into the desert

The first two nights of our trip had been spent in hotels, but for the third night we had found room through airbnb in the house of a young Berber couple living in the Ziz Gorge. The drive from Meknés to our hosts took us from green and fertile meadows, across the barren Middle Atlas mountain range, where snow could be seen in some areas, and finally into the desert. What a day. We made a few stops along the way, and even saw the same species of barbary macaque monkeys which we had met in Gibraltar, but we mostly spent the day driving.

As we were approaching our destination, I texted with our host Majid, and we found him standing at the side of the road waiting to show us the way to his house. Majid and his family were living in a palm grove by the wadi. The house had been built by Majid himself with the help from his father. Now he lived there with his young wife, and together they were still working on the surrounding garden, in which they were in the process of planting vegetables. Their family lived just down the street, and on the day we were visiting, Majid’s dad, who normally lived with Majid, was keeping watch over the sister’s sheep that was about to give birth, so he wasn’t at home.

Our host showed us around the palm grove, where they grew dade palms, olive trees and vegetables. The whole area was kept moist by a complex irrigation system, leading water from the river into little channels weaving around the oasis area. In order to control the path of the water, a number of little dams had been build into the channels. It was very impressive to see how the ancient knowledge was still very much in use today, neither Esben nor I had any idea of the work that goes into keeping the palm groves in the desert irrigated.

When we got back we were served a delicious cous cous for dinner, and we spent another couple of hours talking to Majid before he had to leave to get to work as a hotel security guard. It was very interesting talking to Majid about their life in Morocco. Staying in a very modest Berber house, would usually not be thought of as something special, but for us this was definitely one of the highlights of our trip.

The next morning our hosts laughed as they helped us jumpstart the car, and we were on our way to the desert. Here, we again had booked a room through airbnb – which turned out to be a full apartment, complete with kitchen and living room. Merzouga has sand dunes in its’ backyard, which is the reason for all the tourists to come here, and we soon had our host, Yaishi, busy arranging the next couple of days for us. He picked us up the next morning in his 4×4 truck, and we spent some hours going through the highlights of the area. First stop was the flamingo-lake, which only appears every few years after heavy rainfall. We saw the flamingoes in the distance, but found the camels wandering about the area much more interesting! Mattis’ favorite part of the day was when we went to search for fossils. Sahara used to be below sea level, and today it is still possible to find fossilized sea creatures in this area. Yaishi also showed us the quarts mine where his father worked himself to death. When Yaishi was a boy, the family were nomads, but the father wanted a better future for his kids and decided to move to Merzouga, get a job in the mine and buy a house. Yaishi never went to school, but taught himself french and english, and now runs a business, which gives him enough income to provide for his family. Very impressive. He told us his father had wanted to see him getting married, and died two weeks after the wedding from a lung illness. A powerful story to hear.

The last stop of the day was in a beduin tent, where we were served tea. Here, they still lived like the nomads have lived for centuries; cooking over fire and with kids who will never go to school. Not because it is not possible, but because the parents simply don’t see why it is necessary. Really food for thoughts to see how people live here and to hear their stories.

That evening we went to the outskirts of the sand dunes, where the camels were waiting for us. Next up was a night in the desert. We were all loaded unto our camels – Runa was brave and rode on her own – and then we started our walk to the tents where we would be spending the night. It was beautiful moving through the sand dunes while the sun was slowly setting, but we also learned that you do in fact use your muscles a lot while riding, it’s not as relaxing as it looks. We arrived in the camp just after sunset, were served tea, and spent the evening chatting and looking at the stars – the kids spent the evening running around in this giant playground. By the time dinner was ready, we were all very tired, and it looked like most of the other visitors felt the same way. So after dinner we went to our “luxury-beduin-tent”, and spent a fairly cold night under the blankets until we were woken by the camels the next morning.

We loved experiencing a night in the desert, but the most interesting part of visiting Merzouga was probably spending time with our host, Yaishi, and hearing his story.

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